Dear Hiatus Kaiyote,
Who exactly do you think you are? First you captivate us with your 2013 debut Tawk Tomahawk, which was full of chilled out ethereal vibes and so good that we just had to give you our Bounce-Worthy seal of approval. Then, late last year, you teased us with your By Fire EP and a brief taste of what was to come on your highly anticipated sophomore release, Choose Your Weapon. But nothing, and we mean nothing, could've prepared us for this album. Not only did you all double down on the unique blend of soul, hip-hop, jazz and electronic music that lured us in, but you expanded upon it and, over 18 breathtaking tracks, you provide us with one of the best musical journeys of the year.
After leading us off with a trippy, glitchy intro, you guys get right to the good stuff with "Shaolin Monk Motherfunk." The song represents the general feel of the album with its ever-changing sound keeping us on our toes and not letting us get too comfortable with just one style. Then you give us the acid trip of "Laputa," a tribute to animator Hayao Miyazaki, which is all airy synths and thick vibrating bass. But then as we come down from the high, you hit us with the sensual one-two punch of "Borderline With My Atoms" and "Breathing Underwater." The former, a seductive lover's groove that's sure to soundtrack many nights to come, features Nai Palm's breathy sighs and coos as the fellas of the band, Perrin Moss, Paul Bender and Simon Mavin, lay down a sensuous guitar and synth groove that sounds like silk feels against the skin. The latter is a bit reminiscent of Stevie Wonder's sound during his The Secret Life of Plants era. With its poetic lyrics, it's also one of the most beautiful musical love letters that anyone can ever hope to receive.
"Swamp Thing" switches up things once again with a head-nodding and undeniably funky electric bass/piano pairing as we're told about that thing creeping just below the surface. And it's that piano that slyly bleeds into the next track, the nostalgic slow jam "Fingerprints." And though you guys infuse it with a lush tone normally reserved for slow dances and lovers' moments, we're instead given a tale of forgotten memories and the rise of new wisdom. Then there's "Jekyll" which lives up to its two-sided namesake, at first a tender ballad that then veers into funky, syncopated percussion and then back again without so much as a warning. But by the following song, the haunting lullaby "Prince Minikid," Nai Palm has gone ethereal goddess again as the guys lay dreamy backing that washes over us like waves of water.
And honestly, the album would've been great if you'd simply ended it there. Instead, you switch gears again with "Atari." How you guys were able to combine the glitchy sounds of '80s videogaming with your own style and make something that feels so earthy and soulful is beyond us, but you manage to make it easy. The combination is visited even further with "By Fire," which is about Nai Palm's late father and his passing. While the inspiration comes from a sad place, the digitized soundscape and powerful message concerning loss and finding yourself in the process resonate deeply. Speaking of resonating deeply, "The Lung" serves as a breather before the album's finish. It's absolutely stunning, with soft, lilting guitar welcoming us into the cool of the song and as we're asked to breathe it all in and let it all go. (It could also be interpreted as one of the best songs ever about indulging in "herbal medicine" not created by Snoop Dogg.)
Penultimate song "Molasses," a journey of self-discovery backed by buttery smooth, jazzy grooves and swift shifts in tempo, is easily the best of the best here. It's an undeniable song that's perhaps the best thing that you've ever done. "Building A Ladder," meanwhile serves as a peaceful benediction. After delivering dizzying highs and complex, thoughtful lyrics, "Building A Ladder" is a straightforward love song that shows that sometimes you guys don't have to be labyrinthine to evoke the beauty that you infuse each of your songs on the album with. It's a fitting end to a long and rewarding journey.
With Choose Your Weapon, we're shown that Hiatus Kaiyote is a group that refuses to simply stay in one musical place. While you guys definitely wear your soul and R&B musical influences on your sleeves, your sound is ultimately genre-bending — and not in a contrived, purposeful way, either. Instead, it's obvious that you all put yourselves into the work, crafting each song with a care and musicality that is increasingly rare in music today (and even weaving them all together with brief instrumentals throughout the album). And that, my dear friends, is why we're more than happy to choose this album every chance we get.